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Shenandoah Farms chief: Most painful experience of career

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

Few people know exactly what state police are investigating in the Shenandoah Farms Fire Department, and Harlan Cook isn't one of them.

The department's chief is confident, though, about what triggered the investigation -- a "substantial" amount of bingo money that was discovered missing from a department safe earlier this year. Cook estimated the amount at slightly more than $1,000.

The thief's identity is unknown, if indeed it even was a theft, Cook said.

He said he has been told by another government official to expect a visit from investigators within a few days.

Cook spoke of the investigation as the most painful experience in his 44-year career in the fire service, but he doesn't minimize its seriousness. The department has a new safe and now limits the number of people with access to the lock combination to two or three, a sharp departure from past practice.

Cook is cooperating with Warren County officials in turning the department's bills over to them for payment while the investigation is continuing.

"It's a bad situation when something like this occurs in a fire department," he said. "I hate to think anybody would steal from a fire department, as hard as we work for our money."

Still, he couldn't hide his bitterness over the intervention of outside agencies, which he blames on an unknown whistle-blower within the department's ranks. He said the third-party audit and subsequent state police investigation prevented the department from conducting its own investigation and imposing its own remedies when the missing bingo money was discovered.

"Some rat came out of the department ... without giving us a chance to get it right," he said.

Cook acknowledged finding signs of financial and personnel mismanagement identified in complaints made by members of the public to the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Warren County and Clarke County pay for much of the department's annual operating budget of $90,000 to $100,000. Before taking a job with Warren County, he had been the department's chief for 11 years.

He said he and a new management team have done much to improve management and performance at the department since his return. The bingo money theft and investigation led some volunteers to leave, he said, a blow to a 60-member department, of whom about 12 or 15 answer fire and rescue calls. The remainder help with fundraising and other support.

"I just hope [the investigation] is over soon," Cook said. "I don't want people to give up on us."


"Some Rat"?? Really? is that how you feel about it? Sounds like a great work environment, if you play "the game".

"Still, he couldn't hide his bitterness over the intervention of outside agencies, which he blames on an unknown whistle-blower within the department's ranks" "Some rat came out of the department ... without giving us a chance to get it right,"

I find Harlen Cook's comments painful. Someone recognized a potential problem, and rightfully alerted the authorities, yet he calls them a rat.

How did Mr. Cook propose to "get it right"? Hide the situation, sweep it under the rug? This is the public's money we are talking about. The money belonged to the taxpayers of Frederick and Warren County, and we have a right to be informed how it is being managed, good or bad.

In my opinion, Mr. Cook's comments certainly imply that he believes it would be proper to cover up an incident of missing public funds. I don't agree.

An "internal investigation"? Into allegations of embezzlement, theft, and/or financial mismanagement?

This type of thing precludes an internal investigation. The state police have absolutely done the right thing because if they are embezzling or mismanaging money then they have shown themselves to be incapable and unworthy of the public trust.

If there is nothing to be hidden, the SFFD should welcome the state police to come in and clear their name.


I agree with the comments posted before mine. It's absolutely shameful that Mr. Cook would go on record saying that the person that alerted the authorities is a rat. Also, this is not just about missing bingo money, the other article (also posted yesterday) elaborated more:

Other problems cited by Krysler included rejection of qualified firefighters in the hiring process; misuses of county funds for bingo events; underage personnel responding to fires and operating equipment; and failure to conduct criminal background investigations on all department members.

He indicated that the fire department had been "turning down qualified certified firefighters, meetings were not being run by Robert's Rules, the fire department did not follow the by-laws, [there was] misuse of County funds for bingo events, non-qualified personnel responded to fires and operated equipment, under-age persons responded to water rescues and brush fires, criminal background investigations were not conducted on all members, three members of the fire department responded to a serious motorcycle accident involving his son in their personal vehicles and he had to transport his son to the hospital himself."

It's pretty obvious that there were/are problems at this facility and I'm glad the whistle blower came forward. The situation was already bad, it could've definitely gotten worse if no one spoke up. I think the whistle blower was courageous, I know it couldn't have been an easy decision to come forward when there's bound to be backlash.

well, maybe if I changed my name I could get my comments published... not willing to go that far to "get along" with the good ole boys

You aren't alone, Josea. I am consistently a victim of the Daily's arbitrary and capricious censorship regime. I look at the comments that get suppressed and I cannot find anything in their comments policy that I have violated.

Since the NV Daily's comments policy gives them the right to "end your access to our commenting platform if you provide false, inaccurate or misleading information," I would like to submit that the Daily itself should remove its ability to post on its website since the articles frequently do precisely what is prohibited above. At least, if you read the comments, people frequently correct glaring errors in the facts that are in an article.

There has been romurs for years about the fire dept and the HOA . Has any one looked in the the allication of HOA funds .I feel that there is going to be heads that roll when all of this is said and done .

With regard to the article -- what an odd collection of problems for SFFD!

With regard to posting --
I will say that although my comments have always been posted, my husband's sure haven't. I'm not sure what he was violating specifically, although sometimes he advocated unpopular points of view...which maybe have been the real problem.

In any event, thanks Daily, for posting these voices of dissent -- looks like you're allowing for some differences of opinion and "questioning". Keep it up -- remember even "disagree-ers" are readers (and attract other readers) and in that way support your publishing.

Let's see if I can get my actual comment posted for once... There can be no getting around it, as quoted in nvdaily, Harlan Cook’s response to the Virginia State Police investigation of SFVFD was, “Some rat came out of the department … without giving us a chance to get it right,” per the nvdaily in the same article, Harlan Cook lamented the fact that those with knowledge of the more than $1,000 missing from the SFVFD safe will not get a chance to “make it right” internally. Well, we old-time Virginians know that “lemme make it right” is code after-the-fact for “I’ll do whatever I want and sweet-talk my way out of it later.”
Thank you, Mr. Whistleblower, for coming forward so that the State Police can shine a li’l light on SFVFD.

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